Jeremy Clarke

Jeremy Clarke

In praise of a solidly, wonderfully French hotel

Nothing in the beach hotel was made of plastic. It wasn’t advertised as being a plastic-free hotel, but we noticed it. Nor was there a television in the room nor air conditioning nor a ‘no smoking’ notice on the wall nor a list of hotel rules. Instead there was a wall of books in the

The art of breaststroke

I’m house-sitting for the foreign correspondent while he attends the funeral of his beloved father-in-law Toto, the last of the languid Old Etonian gentleman bankers. And he has a pool. And what a pool it is. The days here are roasting; the sun is now the enemy. Already dead leaves crackle underfoot. So I swim

It is time for me to ‘get right with the Lord’

‘But you look so well!’ How many times have I heard that lately. Kindly meant by most, but for a few it’s outrageous, after all they have heard or read about my health, and they feel cheated of the mushrooms growing out of the side of my head that they’d been hoping for. Either way

Why I love Her Majesty

I’ve often wondered whether Her Majesty the Queen glances through The Spectator from time to time. And if she does, I wonder whether her kindly eye lights on this column. And if it does, I wonder what she thinks of what she reads there. ‘Philip, there’s a man here writing about going to the Cheltenham

The art of oncology

The main side effect of the six-month course of chemotherapy was ‘fatigue’. The main side effect of the three-monthly hormone injection is ‘fatigue’. The one and only side effect of the expensive, new-generation, last-chance-saloon anti-prostate cancer drug that I’ve been started on is ‘fatigue’. I’m clapped out. At night I sleep for 11 hours and

How not to fish

After two nights at Le Grau-du-Roi (the King’s Pond) and a night spent within the medieval walls of Aigues-Mortes (Stagnant Waters) we drove north-west to our Remainer friend’s castle perched on the bank of the river Lot. Then duty called her and Catriona returned to Provence and I stayed on for a week to try

In the footsteps of Hemingway

‘They were living at le Grau du Roi then and the hotel was on a canal that ran from the walled city of Aigues Mortes straight down to the sea.’ So begins Hemingway’s posthumously published transgender-themed novel The Garden of Eden. He began writing it in 1946 and kept at it intermittently through his long

How a May Day car-boot sale gave me back my optimism

So that’s it. Is a third world war possible? It’s already begun, opined a retired US general in the newspaper. Oh good. I shouted down the stairs to Catriona: ‘World War Three’s started.’ Catriona said she’d better get the washing in, then go down to the village shop to get fresh coriander. May Day in

The call of opium-based analgesics and introspection

On the morning of my last day in England, I drew back a curtain and there in the garden, browsing one of the flower beds, was a brown hare. It hobbled cautiously but not timidly among the spring bulbs, choosing thoughtfully like a discriminating shopper. I leaned on the window sill and watched it for

The nature of luck

I was walking across a fallow field to the pub with my two grandsons. ‘What’s this?’ said my 11-year-old Oscar, showing me a bone he’d noticed embedded in the footpath and prised out. I rubbed the mud off the delicate, strangely beautiful thing with my thumb. ‘That,’ I said, with more authority than knowledge, ‘is

My sojourn in the Test Valley

After north Cornwall I came to the Test Valley, I think. That is what it says on the council vans anyhow. An immensely kind family lent me an immense cottage in farmland a mile outside a village. I’ve started new drugs costing the French taxpayer €4,000 a month. Possible side effects are thrush and fatigue.

Modern capitalism has failed my son

A light was on in the caravan site office so I went over to try and buy a gas canister. Come Easter the little Cornish seaside resort will be heaving. Now a stiff north wind blew in off the sea and it felt like the dregs of winter still. The site office was shut but

Elegy in a country churchyard

‘I love this old watering can,’ said my sister, sprinkling the miniature rose. ‘Though I do worry about soaking Mum. How far down is she? Do you remember?’ I said I thought about five foot. The country churchyard is sheltered by hedges and trees and the graves are decently spaced. On Mothering Sunday mown grass

The call of a blackbird’s full-throated song

Speaking pretty good English, Dr Tayeb came straight to the point. Was I eligible for the ground breaking new cancer treatment? He was afraid not. The radioactive test scan had illuminated the bone tumours very nicely, but the more dangerous one in the liver had remained occluded. So in my case the new treatment –

The shadowy charisma of the Mater Dei sisters

Catriona has a commission to paint the 17th-century façade of the chapel of St Joseph’s. She’d made a start when she decided that a foreground figure would lend greater interest and perspective to the composition. Following an email exchange, one of the nuns agreed to pose on the stony path leading up to the chapel

The joy of wigs

I thought, or anyway hoped, that once I’d finished the chemotherapy I would spring back to vitality. Seven weeks on and I’m still creeping about like a two-toed sloth. Now and then I study my face and head in the bathroom mirror for signs of rejuvenation. The narrow skull now boasts a light covering of

My oncologist has a new weapon in his arsenal

‘We’re at war!’ said the taxi man as I installed myself for the long drive to Marseille. I put a fist to my mouth and tooted my imaginary bugle. But world war three – as he saw it – was no joking matter. My tootling bugle irritated him and his voice rose by a querulous

The joy of French car boot sales

Every Saturday morning Michael rises at four and drives down to the Côte d’Azur to the Magic World car boot sale. He goes early to see the bric-à-brac unloaded in order to pounce on any interesting old bottles, which he collects. His collection of 18th-century champagne bottles is probably second to none. While hunting bottles,

The healing power of medieval austerity

Eighty yards west of the high terrace where I’ve sat for three weeks recuperating is a hospice built for Napoleon’s veterans. Solidly constructed high up in the south-facing cliff-face, it comprises a complex of walkways and balconies interconnected by precipitous staircases. It is easy to imagine the battered survivors of Leipzig and Borodino perched up